Archive for the tag “Plays”

Under a Rainbow Flag

WHAT: Under a Rainbow Flag
WHEN: March 21 – April 21, 2013 (schedule)

WHERE: Profiles Theatre – The Main Stage (4139 N. Broadway Ave.)
RUNTIME: 2 Hours and 30 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission
WHO: Pride Films and Plays
PRICE: $15-25

OUR RATING: Do It!

A meeting on a train for four gay soldiers during World War Two is the starting point for Leo Schwartz’s new musical Under the Rainbow Flag, based on the true story of veteran Jon Phillips. A tale of self-discovery, good humor and utter tragedy, we journey west to San Francisco and onto the war-torn shores of East Asia, exploring the many different paths these remarkable men take.

With show-stopping tunes and wonderfully composed ensemble pieces, Under the Rainbow Flag tells the very real story of servicemen who fought and died for a country which denied and opposed their sexuality, and for this it should be celebrated as an original and heartfelt triumph.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Alicia: The production of Under a Rainbow Flag couldn’t have better timing. The show was submitted as part of Pride Films and Plays’ Great Gay Play Contest (2012), and now the next installment is right around the corner with Gay Play Weekend and the 2013 Great Gay Play Contest showing its fierce talent at Center on Halsted from May 17 to 19.

Since last year’s contest, Under a Rainbow Flag has nurtured and grown, with a staged reading at Center on Halsted last May, and with an overwhelming response to their Indiegogo project, raising over $5000. And now, after months of work, it has matured and found its place on Uptown’s Main Stage.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Under the Rainbow Flag is a poignant, fast-paced soiree that really does take you back to those days of radio plays, big bands and rhythm & blues, and the prevalence of WWII propaganda infiltrating the modern lives of American civilians and soldiers alike. Set Designer Ashley Ann Woods works magic on the production, with WWII vintage print posters lining the top level of the stage, magnificently painted background drops of San Francisco on the main level, and even her trolley-track work-of-art flooring. She works hand-in-hand with lighting designer Garvin Jellison to move the audience effortlessly from setting to setting, with my favorite moments being spotlights against a Pearl Harbor poster (and did I detect an outline of a radio?) while the radio news played to provide a bit of historical background to the theatrical mix.

But the talent didn’t stop on the tech side, with director and Pride Films and Plays Executive Director David Zak showing his directorial prowess with a melange of smart, risky and just-plain-fun choices. Knockout performances were seen from James Nedrud (Russell) and Jordan Phelps (Stefano), who may not have been the main characters, but were really the ones who carried the show for me. Nedrud has obviously played the musical scene before (his rendition of “The Army’s Handing Out Medals” with fellow actor Luis Herrera (Bender) was a highlight of the night), and I would love to see him elsewhere on stage. He knows how to play to a crowd and how to really work Tracy Strimple’s choreography. Meanwhile, Phelps has a sincere and provocative charm which adds complexity to his bitingly raw performance.

Adam: The presence of gays in the military during World War Two is not a subject that is covered much in the history books. While technically banned from service in the 1940s, the imperative for fighting men meant that gays were indeed admitted, albeit while keeping their sexuality low profile. Indeed, the recent repeal of DADT, as well as the cases currently before the Supreme Court, reminds us that we are still in the midst of this discrimination, and have only just begun taking steps towards equality. Under a Rainbow Flag starts to illuminate some of this history for the first time, an extremely important service.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Truly marvelous and catchy numbers (especially “Queens”, which is perhaps the most riotously fantastic piece in the whole work) create a sense of connection and camaraderie between audience and actors. Full of energy and life, we are treated to a full array of experiences from the openly camp, to the closeted (but hilarious) reactions to straight servicemen. Codes are an essential part of life for these men, who must balance between the ideal and reality, which is also more brutally reflected in the wartime setting, replete with its own codes and ciphers, even if they are for more grisly purposes.

(Photo by David Zak)

With expert music direction by Robert Ollis, seated behind the keyboard in full military uniform, a perfect score beams forth that makes us laugh as well as reflect on the wider, more serious issues that it raises. An important piece of theatre for our times, I would highly recommend you pick up a ticket and get a front row seat.

Final Thoughts: With Under the Rainbow Flag, Pride Films and Plays continues to foster compelling and talented work that speaks to the LGBT community and beyond, and we’re thrilled to see such a commendable piece of work find its footing in the performing arts and have such great success in a short period of time.

The Birthday Party

WHAT: The Birthday Party
WHEN: January 24 – April 28, 2013
WHERE: 1650 N. Halsted Ave.
RUNTIME: 2 hours and 30 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions
HOST: Steppenwolf Theatre Company
PRICE: $15-$78

OUR RATING: Chance It!

(Credit: Sandro)

(Credit: Sandro)

Ambiguity takes and reigns the stage in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, now playing until March 3rd in Steppenwolf’s newly configured Upstairs Theatre in Lincoln Park. Directed by ensemble member Austin Pendleton and starring an epic cast of Steppenwolf ensemble members Ian Barford, Francis Guinan, Moira Harris and John Mahoney (along with Marc Grapey and Sophie Sinise), Steppenwolf’s take on Pinter’s nightmarish dark-comic classic is lukewarm at best.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Moira Harris, Ian Barford, Sophia Sinise, Francis Guinan and Marc Grapey (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Set in a seaside English boarding house, this comedy of menace is absurd to say the least, with a fluid and questionable sense of time, place, identity and context. To put it simply, the lives of owners Meg (Moira Harris) and Petey (John Mahoney) and their guest Stanley (Ian Barford) are turned upside down with the arrival of two mysterious strangers (Francis Guinan and Marc Grapey). Other aspects of the plot are given step by step and questioned along the way, leaving the audience to piece together the rest of the story.

Steppenwolf’s new configuration of their Upstairs Theatre definitely adds some excitement to the piece, now bringing their audience closer in a new alley (traverse) staging that provides a unique and slightly uncomfortable intimacy with both the stage and the audience on the other side.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Barford and Harris (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

However, the most essential pieces of a Pinter play are unfortunately found missing in this production. The classic suspense and menace that pervade each of his works, including The Birthday Party, are only subtle here, leaving the audience without the unique creepiness and spine-tingling feeling of risk that one usually associates with the Nobel laureate’s work. After reading the play, one feels a certain amount of discomfort and tension that is refreshing and exciting and scary all at the same time. But Pendleton’s direction seems more stagnant and lacks this sense of the dramatic, with a few hapless cameos of the over-dramatic.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Guinan and Grapey (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

In addition to this, the setting, which is clearly stated by Pinter to be a southern English town (as mentioned on several occasions in the media), does not seem to have mattered to whoever provided guidance for accents on this production. Dialects seem to range from northern working class (Mahoney), Thespian London (Guinan), and indiscernible (Welsh?) (Harris). This added to the confused feeling of the production and was perhaps intentional. However, it still doesn’t forgive some of the poorer accent approximations given by certain members of the cast, which are simply unnecessary with the proper training. We, however, blame this more so on a failing of the voice coach than any of the actors themselves.

John Mahoney and Francis Guinan (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Mahoney and Guinan (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

This doesn’t negate the fact that the acting as a whole is superb, with stellar performances from Francis Guinan and John Mahoney, although Mahoney’s part is much smaller than we would have liked. Each of these theatrical veterans bring a whole lot of punch to this play, with Mahoney’s strange vulnerability and the lovable, yet terrifying, character of Guinan’s.

While the average ticket price may be a bit too steep for this production, Steppenwolf offers some pretty awesome ticket discounts, including $15 student tickets and twenty $20 tickets to every single show. Twenty bucks to see some top Steppenwolf acting of Pinter’s ominous absurd-ism may just be worth it.

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